|Issue No 32||24 September 1999|
Chris Christodoulou on a Saintly Merger
Whatever the outcome of the this weekend's NRL grand final one thing is for certain - the merger between St George and Illawarra was not only necessary but natural.
Necessary because the Steelers would not have survived on their own. And natural because St George have been the major beneficiary over the years of great footballers from the Illawarra: Changa Langlands, Craig Young, Lord Ted Goodwin, slippery Steve Morris, John Jansen. Many other ex-St George players finished their careers in Steel Town - Rod Reddy, Steve Rogers, Brad Mackay.
But more importantly, as a kid who grew up in Wollongong, we all wore St George jerseys to footy training and made a priority of trading the St George footy cards after school.
I joined the Wollongong Football Club because its strip was the same as St George. And none of the other clubs bothered to adopt any other Sydney club - they knew they wouldn't have got any players.
So you can see be now why I am totally comfortable with the St George- Steelers merger.
But let me try to be a little more objective. When the Illawarra Steelers joined the Sydney competition some 20 years ago Wollongong was a buzz. The year we nearly won the wooden spoon, Wollongong was still abuzz.
In the early eighties recession the one thing that kept some sanity in Wollongong amidst the steelwork redundancies and mine closures was the Steelers.
The point I'm trying to make is having no rugby league club in Wollongong was never an option. The Steelers management knew this when they made the pragmatic decision to merge with St George. The Steelers financially were on their last legs and the NRL's criteria could have seen Wollongong without a regional football team.
The real challenge for Wollongong was not so much the colours or the name but to have a rugby league team whose majority of home games would be played in Wollongong.
On Sunday at 4.30pm I have no doubt that St George-Illawarra will be doing the victory lap at the Olympic Stadium. The players will than travel the St George Leagues Club to begin their celebrations, but at 9pm they'll hop on a bus and head for Wollongong.
They'll arrive at WIN Stadium to the roar of over 10,000 people who would have been partying all afternoon in anticipation of the win.
Wollongong will again will be abuzz and our team will have finally come home.
Go you Dragons
Pick Chris Christodoulou from this footy team photo and be his guest for the first St George-Illawarra Wollongong home game of the 2000 season. The first correct entry will be the winner.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005